Raster graphics processing
This benchmark is only partly optimized for multithreading, so Gulftown can leave older cores behind but still cannot outdo Sandy Bridge. Even where there's optimization, four Sandy Bridge cores look quite impressive: Core i7-2600 outperforms Core i7-990X in Photoshop and does almost on a par with it in ACDSee. Hence the results.
Vector graphics processing
This benchmark has little to no support for multithreading, so architecture is the most important factor and clock rate follows.
As you can see, architectural innovation can be quite important. The new platform has older features improved and also supports the new AVX instruction set which is supported by x264, for example. This probably isn't the only factor, but in the end Core i7-2600 catches up with Core i7-970, and Core i7-990X outperforms these by only 10%.
Hardly the most interesting benchmark, given the nature of processors we're testing today. Even Core i7-920, the slowest here, is still 40% faster than the reference Athlon II X4 620 which is more than enough for any office.
The updated benchmark included in the new test method allows Intel's hexacore monsters to improve their results, but even that isn't enough. Even thpugh JVM prefers physical core to virtual threads, the old hexacore CPU is only a bit ahead of the new quad-core processor. But the advantage is clear, if we compare architectures that are closer to each other.
Even the old Core i7-920 will suffice for any kind of gaming, and it's no surprise that it catches up with other processors in this benchmark. And the winner is Core i7-2600.
Overall score and final thoughts
A spherical PC enthusiast in a vacuum must have at least two high-performance machines: one based on a couple of Xeon X5690 processors (similar to Core i7-990X, but capable of working in dual-CPU configurations) for heavy-load tasks like encoding, rendering and such; and another based on a 2nd generation Core, a Core i3-2130 even, for interactive tasks. In real life the most reasonable thing to do is to find a compromise. Today it means going with a Core i7-2600 in a single high-performance desktop PC. Sure, it loses to a hexacore CPU, but just 10% and the latter is thrice as expensive. Besides, Core i7-990X isn't as good in day-to-day tasks. Although if you're into rendering or video editing, any Gulftown will surely do just fine. At least until the end of October when Intel rolls out hexacore Sandy Bridge processors.
Does one need a processor with this many cores in a desktop PC in general? There are some benefits, as our results show, but only in certain areas of application. Otherwise, you'll just get yourself a very expensive space heater.
As you can see, multicore processors remain a kind of thing-in-itself. The difference is that, just a few years ago, that "multi" part meant four cores, and these days quad-core solutions are mainstream. And their performance grows, too: Core i7-920 (late 2008), Core i7-860 (H2'2009) and Core i7-2600 (early 2011) all belong to the same price range. This is close to 1.5x performance growth in a bit more than two years. With the same number of cores and while reducing power consumption at that. Just due to architectural innovations.
Users who still need more cores and are ready to pay for this kind of performance can go with hexacore processors which are now capable of competing with older dual-CPU configurations. The newer dual-processor solutions are also available, of course, as powerful as ever.
Who needs a revolution with this kind of evolution?
We thank Corsair and Palit for providing PC parts for our testbeds.
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